Jim Prior may have been doomed to fail but he had plenty of help from the locals

It’s a  natural reflex to blame the Brits and indeed, there’s a good case to be made for it time and again.  But  the career locally of  Jim Prior, the senior Conservative  who was secretary of  state from  October 1981 to September  1984, a month before the Brighton Bomb, is stark evidence that the time for conciliation had not yet come and conventional  politics was impotent.

The best Jim Prior obit  is written by the veteran Julia Landon  in the Guardian. Memory has its advantages, not least in obituary writing, although Julia’s beat was back in Westminster, where Jim was well  known as a shrewd operator, although managing  the transition from Heath to Thatcher with difficulty.

Prior came from the tradition of Tory gentry with a social conscience who in better days might have struck a chord in Northern Ireland. He was a self confident figure like Willie Whitelaw and like him already came with an established reputation.  But unlike Whitelaw, Prior the unreconstructed “wet”  failed to establish more than a formal working relationship with  Margaret Thatcher.  He did tell me though that he was touched when Thatcher rang him up to wish him a Happy Christmas  one year when he felt obliged  to spend the  festive season in Northern Ireland. He and his wife Jane who died last year enjoyed  the proconsular role.  Hillsborough which was the nearest  the province came  to  his home environment and he  regularly attended the parish church with its old Governor’s stall.

The Prior approach made little impact  because events in 1981 had grown even darker since direct rule in  March 1972. A conciliator by instinct he favoured concessions to the hunger strikers although he played little part in its ending weeks after his appointment in October 1981.

Shortly after his arrival he got his first taste of  unionist bitterness. As a conventional Anglican he was deeply shocked when was hissed and booed as he knelt forward to pray  at the funeral service for the assassinated  Rev Robert Bradford MP. Relations with unionists were  therefore destined to be ill fated.  The most modest attempts at an  “initiative”  with the SDLP were damned as IRA appeasement.

New nadirs were being reached all the time. 17 killed in London parks in July 1982.  17 killed in the Droppin’ Well bomb planted by INLA in Ballykelly in December  the same year – just two of the worst  in Northern Ireland and England.

I was with him and other correspondents when he threw up his papers one day in 1983, as news came through of the assassination  of Edgar Graham the young academic  lawyer  and Unionist Assembly member outside Queen’s library who had been a strong opponent  of concessions to the hunger strikers. This was one of a  spate of  IRA  assassinations of  Unionist politicians beginning with the murders of the former Stormont Speaker Sir Norman Stronge and his son James in early 1981. It provided no background for political deal making.

In this unpromising climate his  long experience of trade union conciliation nevertheless prompted him to have another go at the purely Northern Ireland settlement he called ” rolling devolution ” – though where it would finally roll to was never explained. No one including Thatcher believed in it and  they barely went through the motions. Its main achievement was to give the  emerging DUP an effective  parliamentary platform of protest .

He made little  impact with the SDLP  who boycotted the “Prior Assembly” and moved south to help devise the Forum for a New Ireland convened in Dublin Castle.  Meanwhile a British-Irish Intergovernmental Council was set up in which Prior played little part but was to lead to the controversial  Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 long after Prior had gone.

IRA historian and columnist Brian Feeney’s assessment in the Irish News has more than a grain of truth in it  but as so often  he is  too dogmatic, when the jury is still out on Thatcher’s  role in the hunger strike.

Political historian Brian Feeney described him as a “breath of fresh air” when he was appointed to the north and a man who helped “transform” the prison regime following the 1981 hunger strikes.

“The trouble was he was in a terrible position because Margaret Thatcher blocked everything he did,” he said.

“Any attempt he made to bring in change she was opposed to it, because she sent him over here to fail.

The Maze prison regime did change partly thanks to Prior, although almost certainly it would have changed anyway.

His own verdict on the Troubles quoted in the Belfast Telegraph  was  typical Jim Prior,  equivocal, perhaps realistic, but  hardly definitive.

 “Violence probably does work, it may not work quickly and may not be seen to work quickly, but in the long run one has to look back and say it did work.

“I know we did not win it but I am not certain the other side won,” he told documentary maker Peter Taylor.

“As time went on it became possible for both sides to get into a position where it was easier to make peace than make war.”


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • billypilgrim1

    Describing Brian Feeney as an “IRA historian and columnist” is incredibly gauche.

    I don’t see anything dogmatic in Feeney’s characterisation of Prior. He’s actually very generous.

    The only dogmatism I see, Brian, is your dogmatic adulation of British state power.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Prior was a decent man though he suffered from the fairly typical Tory noblesse oblige approach to us plebs in Ulster.

    The assembly was a decent attempted initiative, scuppered by SDLP avoidance of it (for which for some reason they get nothing like the criticism unionists attract for their supposed ‘intransigence’).

    His comments to Peter Taylor certainly weren’t his finest hour and I hope didn’t reflect his full views on the Troubles. He was I think somewhat wiser than those comments would suggest.

  • billypilgrim1

    I think perhaps you are misunderstanding his comments about violence. He might just as well have been talking about the violence of the British state and citing it as the reason the IRA did not win.

    Which is a bitter thing to read, but probably the truth all the same. The violence of the British state (structural, proxy and direct) is always the elephant in the room here.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Indeed there are lots of reasons the IRA failed, you could write a book on it. But actually I don’t think the “violence of the British state” was much of a factor at all, given how low level it was – something like one sixth of the number of people killed compared to Republicans and if you hone in actual deliberate unlawful killing, it’s something like 1:15 or 1:20. So I don’t think it was that that scuppered Adams et al.

    Main factors were: (1) Republican ideological stupidity (unachievable, unrealistic and bad aims); (2) determination of the public to carry on with normal life; (3) intelligence services infiltration; (4) belatedly consistent policy by Westminster from late 70s onwards, making it clear they wouldn’t force a united Ireland (after some earlier wavering); (5) falling testosterone levels of IRA leaders as they got into middle age; (6) increased international recognition of the UK in the 90s as acting rationally and reasonably and the terrorism being the thing that needed to stop; (7) the depressing revival of Loyalist killing in the early 90s under a new more aggressive generation.

    I think the logic of stopping just built and built over time until it reached a tipping point. One reads that the ‘top brass’ in the IRA knew from the mid-70s they couldn’t ever win. Obviously, they were happy enough to kill people anyway because it made them feel good and heroic, in their perverted way. The question was, how soon would they tire of that, or would it ever wear off?

    I must admit I thought they were crazy enough to keep on killing ad infinitum and I was surprised when they threw in the towel. But it goes to show, even delusional zealots have some vague grasp of reality which pulls them back sometimes.

    What made stopping possible, ironically, was Republicans’ utter disregard for truth and consistency: they had no problem constructing an Orwellian narrative to ‘explain’ their U-turn and the abandonment of what they had hitherto been all about.

    A large section of nationalism chose to go with the Republicans’ new story, partly because deep down they wanted it all to stop but also because it was also in their interests for the IRA’s level of blame for the armed struggle to be reduced – it was making them look bad, and feel bad about themselves. SF’s conversion to politics was a godsend for “sneaking regard”ers within the wider nationalist population. They now felt they could come out of the closet with previously hidden pro-Republican views, without immediately looking like they supported the latest IRA atrocity. SF has played on that ever since.

  • billypilgrim1

    I see the violence of the British state is to remain the elephant in the room. Oh well. I can also see how much more comfortable you are confining yourself to the violence of the other, indeed how much you enjoyed that digression on IRA violence. Far be it from me to deprive you of such an obvious pleasure.

    I don’t think you realise it, but you’re interpreting the term “violence” in a radically ideological way.

    Here’s Malcolm X in 1963, talking about how the Nation of Islam was described as “violent” by the white power structure. What he’s talking about sounds very, very familiar to Irish nationalists.

    “The charge of violence against us actually stems from the guilt complex that exists in the conscious and subconscious minds of most white people in this country. They know that they have been violent in their brutality against negros, and they feel that some day the negro is going to wake up, and try and do unto the whites what the whites have done unto us. … To accuse us of being violent is like accusing a man who is being lynched of violence simply because he struggles vigorously against his lyncher. The victim is accused of “violence” but the lyncher is never accused of “violence”, and I only point this out because the various racist groups that are set up in this country by whites and which have actually practiced violence against blacks for four hundred years are never associated or identified or made synonymous with the term “violence”. But whites speak of Muslims almost synonymously with violence. This is a sort of a propaganda tactic, or what I would call psychological warfare.”

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You need to explain two things:
    – how is any state to protect its citizens and public servants from large scale, active terrorist groups operating on its soil, without significant use of force at times to stop them?
    – why your focus is so much on illegal British state violence when it only accounts for, at most, around 5-10 per cent of Troubles deaths?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Furthermore …

    I don’t confine myself to the violence of the other, I just apply the law to all. I don’t shrug off terrorism as somehow no big deal and somehow justified by the state operation to stop it. You might have an argument if the state had been so violent as to outstrip the terror it was stopping. But it was nothing like that. The state took one life for every three state servants killed – that can hardly be portrayed as unrestrained overreaction.

    This isn’t to deny fault in individual incidents, but those mistakes and crimes were a very small proportion indeed of the wrongs of the Troubles and they don’t give you carte blanche to portray the state as just as bad the UFF, UVF, INLA or IRA. It’s an accusation that I know is commonly made by those with flakey attitudes to terrorism, but frankly it doesn’t bear much actual scrutiny.

  • billypilgrim1

    The question is not what actions the state may take to protect itself, but rather what is the nature of the state that is being protected? You may persuade yourself that all sorts of evils are justified in order to defeat republicanism, but to what end are you even defeating republicanism?

    “Northern Ireland” has always had a problem of moral legitimacy. Therefore acts that other states might take to defend themselves relatively uncontroversially are controversial here, because the state itself is controversial. The state itself is an act of violence. This would be true even if didn’t act violently. (Which is did / does.)

    And my focus is not on “illegal British sate violence”. My focus is on British state violence, whether (self) defined as legal or not.

    And not just the physical violence of the official state forces and their loyalist proxies. If anything, I’m more exercised by the radical ideological violence of the British state. We never had a ceasefire for that, and the GFA did nothing to address it.

    I doubt you’ll even comprehend what I’m talking about, because you are so completely a product of it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    you’re right, I don’t think it makes any sense at all. Britain is a modern democratic state with similar failings to any other. Why you think we’re some kind of North Korea is beyond me.

    You seem to take no account of either (1) the fact that NI is part of the UK by the choice of its people (i.e.legitimately), nor (2) the fact of Irish Republican commitment to and use of violence for decades necessitating security measures from the state.

    But look, we are a democracy and while I find the Republican dissident views you espouse deeply wrong, you have a right to oppose the Good Friday Agreement if you choose. Happily, most people are still on board, even within the Republican community, so your line on the legitimacy of N Ireland within the UK is that of a tiny minority.

  • billypilgrim1

    Britain might be a modern democratic state, but Northern Ireland isn’t, and being in union with a “modern democratic state” doesn’t make us one.

    We won’t agree on the moral legitimacy of the NI state, but I doubt you can make a decent argument for the wisdom of it.

    It’s a bit like the Provos and their armed struggle: all right, you have this thing, and can probably keep on with it indefinitely. But in God’s name, why?

    And I do not oppose the GFA. Why would my critique of British state power prompt you to such a petulant accusation of “republican dissident views”?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    because mainstream Republicanism signed up to the GFA, which recognises the legitimacy of Northern Ireland and accepts it exists because of the choice of its people. People who don’t on your side are generally known as dissident Republicans. You may not want to be called a dissident, but the position you have taken is the dissident one, not even the SF one. You can’t just declare you’re in favour of the GFA then walk away from what it says like that. If you take issue with it, fine, but don’t masquerade as a peace-loving man of compromise. It’s the deal we agreed and it is a fair one.

  • Tochais Siorai

    I’d like to think he had a light bulb moment and was referring to how violence was central to how Britain took control of Ireland over the centuries.

  • billypilgrim1

    Sorry, but you think the GFA means Irish republicans can no longer critique British state power?

    Where does it say that?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    ah maybe. But then everywhere was really subject to the rule of those with the military clout at some level in the pre-democratic era, it’s not an Irish thing in particular. Most of these islands had similar treatment. The Normans really can f*** off as far as I’m concerned.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    They can critique it of course, but having said what they said in the GFA, they just have to avoid contradicting themselves with guff about “forces of occupation”, or whatever sh** they used to come out with.

  • billypilgrim1


    There’s nothing in the GFA that necessarily requires retrospective recognition of NI’s pre-’98 legitimacy. Nor is there even anything that requires an acceptance of its moral legitimacy, as opposed to a pragmatic recognition that in legal and political terms, we are where we are.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it does say “it would be wrong” to change its status without the consent of the people. If you imagine that idea magically came into being in 1998 … it’s an opinion, let’s call it that.

    The basis on which NI has the right to self-determination is the same basis recognised by all parties except SF long, long before 1998. All that changed in 1998 was SF signing up to it. Partition for slow learners.

  • Skibo

    MU could you point me to the place where Jim Prior said the IRA failed as I do not remember him saying it?

  • Skibo

    One way the State can protect its citizens is to refrain from shooting them!
    The fact that they can be accountable for around 11% directly is shocking in itself. The more worrying issue is the number of indirect deaths. Collusion has not spilled all it’s secrets yet.

  • Skibo

    The fact that SF signed up to the GFA does not automatically say they accept the constitutionality of the state. It merely says they will only use political means to bring about constitutional change. They still believe the setting up of the state in 1921 was unconstitutional and against the democratic right of the people of Ireland. Surely you accept that before 1921 there was no Northern Ireland.

  • billypilgrim1

    “They still believe the setting up of the state in 1921 was unconstitutional and against the democratic right of the people of Ireland.”

    And they’re certainly right about this.

    The fact that unionism was able to secure its ill-gotten gains does not make them cease to be ill-gotten. The fact that nationalism has had to make a supple, strategic concession doesn’t make the crime of which we were the victims cease to have been a crime.

    Our geographically-challenged friend Mainland (sic) Ulsterman has an interpretation of the GFA which is rather totalitarian – “here’s what you are required to think…”

  • billypilgrim1

    “One way the State can protect its citizens is to refrain from shooting them!”

    Begone with this unreconstructed, extremist Fenianism!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    That’s very easy to say from the comfort of 2016 and without bullets flying past our flak jackets. The police and army were coming under fire daily and over 1000 were killed. They have a right and duty to use necessary force to defend themselves when attacked. You’d be better asking some tougher questions of the people shooting them. Without that, pretty much all the deaths the security forces were responsible for could have been avoided.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I don’t think I claimed he did say that … I think it was billypilgrim1 though he sugared the pill by saying they, ahem, “didn’t win”

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No the GFA does expressly say N Ireland is legitimate and there through the wishes of its people – and that “it would be wrong” to change its status without their consent. So, not what you said at all.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You couldn’t make it up … now I’m blamed for holding SF to the words they agreed. No one forced them, they agreed those words. So enjoyable to see the contortions of their discombobulated troops trying to explain it. Can I put it simply for you? They f***ing lost – now get over it.

  • Skibo

    And what you are leaving out is that the British didn’t win either. That means neither side lost.

  • Skibo

    ” We acknowledge the substantial differences between our continuing, and equally legitimate, political aspirations.”
    As far as I am concerned, that line means my political beliefs hold equal to yours. So if you want to keep us soft Republicans on board, you will refrain from the ” we won, you lost” argument and accept we are where we are. If this is the attitude we have to expect from Unionism then expect a flow of support from the GFA and a continuation of the previous Irish history

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Well, I’d disagree with that of course – Republicans clearly failed big time, having had to abandon their campaign without achieving anything like their aims. And while it was never going to be about ‘victory’ in conventional terms for us, the IRA campaign was supposed to be about taking NI out of the UK and into an all-Ireland state. ‘Victory’ for us, wrong word really but anyway, was simply stopping that happening, without having to give away much cherished things we didn’t want to give away. As Tom Hennessey I think put it, we only needed a draw to win. You can never completely beat any terrorist group because they can always start up again. But in realistic terms, we achieved our objectives remarkably well. If it’s not exactly ‘victory’, then it was certainly a favourable end for us to the IRA campaign.

    The bigger point is really that win/lose isn’t really the right way to think about this kind of thing anyway. We all lose when terrorism is going on and we all win when they stop.

  • Skibo

    Rose coloured glasses MU. As I have said previously to you go to the start of the Troubles and you will see that the majority of killings were by the Security Services in the first year. You cannot accept that and keep running the first two years together.
    Remember the Glenanne Gang made up mainly of the Security Services. They were able to murder approximately 120 people from inside the Security Services.
    Remember the shoot-to-kill policy where the Security Services set people up for summary execution.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    your aspirations hold equal to mine of course, I wouldn’t suggest otherwise.
    All i was objecting to before was your pretending it’s still OK to regard NI as illegitimate. The GFA is based on an acceptance of its legitimacy and willingness to work with the reality of it. I know it’s not what you hope for the long term future, and that is fine, everyone can have whatever plans they want. But there is a duty on all of us to accept the current will of the people on the status of NI and not seek to undermine the agreed settlement we have. If seeking a different future, you have to do so while still doing your best to make what people have chosen now work, even if it wasn’t your choice.

  • Skibo

    MU realistically you did not achieve your objectives either. A Stormont with Republicans inside. A First Minister who cannot issue a statement without having clearance from a man once known to be second in command of the IRA in Derry.
    We are a long way away from your victory. Unionism is not in control of Northern Ireland as much as the IRA did not achieve a United Ireland.
    We are at a half-way house. Reunification is the final step. Either Unionism eventually recognises that and uses their negotiating position to get the best possible deal or it will end up in the hands of Westminster and the Dail

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Troubles started in Aug 69 so when you say the first year, you mean the last few months of 69. In those initial months, there was a different pattern indeed from what was to develop into the Republican onslaught. At that stage deaths were mainly in riot situations where security forces came under attack.

  • Skibo

    I cannot argue that the position of NI now is not legitimate and at the same time accept the GFA, I accept that but what I can point out is the fact that the setting up of Northern Ireland in 1921 was not the democratic wishes of the people of the island.

  • Skibo

    MU there were serious riots in Britain a number of years ago. Every bit as serious as the riots in 1969. Would you care to produce how many were killed during the policing of them?
    What happened on the streets in Northern Ireland would not have been acceptable in Britain.
    This was not a normal society pre the Troubles. The political position of a Unionist one party Government legislating in Northern Ireland for the benefit of the Protestant people was not democracy.

  • Skibo

    MU there is an issue here about the British Government being prepared to accept a level of violence as well, as long as it remained on Irish streets. Once the violence happened on the streets of London and in particularly within the Financial zones of London, the onus was on the British to find a political solution.
    As you have said in previous places, a terrorist operation cannot be defeated completely as it is a bit like religion and is based on a belief. You cannot kill a belief with bullets or batons and any martyrs you produce merely fans the flames for future generations.
    “I must admit I thought they were crazy enough to keep on killing ad infinitum and I was surprised when they threw in the towel. But it goes to show, even delusional zealots have some vague grasp of reality which pulls them back sometimes.”
    A very strange analysis for someone who remember the deaths of soldiers on both sides in Flanders. Seems it is a matter of scale before the killing of others can be seen as heroic or just counts on which side of the gun you are on.

    Your judgement of regard for justice and consistency by Republicans can also be laid at the door of the security and intelligence services.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I notice you conveniently adopt the bulls*** line about all violence being the same, whether it’s in a war or terrorism, legal or illegal, moral or immoral. There is no analysis in that and no intelligence I’m afraid. Most of us aren’t fooled by the dressing up of terrorism as ‘war’. If you do that, it’s carte blanche for anyone to start shooting their neighbours then claiming it’s not murder because they are “at war” – the Anders Breivik defence.

    War has a specific meaning and there are specific circumstances defined by the UN Charter (and by customary international law) in which it is justified. You can’t equate people conscripted to fight in France against the German invasion with Breivik, Islamic State, the IRA of the UFF. The context and legality of taking up arms matter hugely to the morality of using violence. It is justified in self-defence. But people like the IRA and UVF abuse that to carve themselves out a blame-free niche for murdering innocent people on the streets. They are and were a disgrace and so is anyone who went along with their transparently bulls*** cover story.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m not sure there have been recent riots on a large scale, ongoing, in which the police and army have been routinely fired upon from crowds and the perpetrators then hidden by the rioting crowds and by sympathisers in the surrounding streets. There are few points of comparison and it’s hard to know how modern security forces would deal with the situation. We have to assume though that there would be much less loss of life. The security forces had a steep learning curve in the Troubles and got much better at working out how to handle riot situations and snipers as the Troubles progressed. If you look at the trend of deaths caused by the security forces as the Troubles progressed, it shows a massive downwards shift after the first few years. Partly that’s due to changes in Republican tactics as they moved away from using riots for cover and seeking shoot-outs with police and army and more towards the more covert targeted one-off murders or bombings, where they put themselves less at risk and kept the circle of trust tighter. But it was also true the security forces learned better strategies and tactics to minimise loss of life when they came under attack, and they were much less lethal from the mid-70s onwards.

    But to answer your question, if the police and army were policing today in similar circumstances, I think there would be much fewer civilian fatalities. Other forces indeed have learned the lessons and the police in NI and Army have been able to save lives around the world by helping train other forces in non-lethal riot control.

  • Skibo

    MU would that be the same criteria that the UK and US governments used to arm Osama Binladen when he was fighting the Russians in Afghanistan or the air attacks for the rebels in Libya or the arming of the rebels in Syria?
    There is still evidence that ISIL was an acceptable rebel force during the war to overthrow Assad and it was only when they wanted to set up their own caliphate that they became so hated.
    As for the reasons for the start of WW1,it was more to do with royal family power struggles.
    WW2 was a result of a bad peace after WW1 and it was a time bomb that was always going to go off.
    If you cared to look at most of the wars in the last century, the majority of them can be trailed back to WW1 and the dividing out of the spoils.

  • Skibo

    “A war is only just if it is fought for a reason that is justified, and that carries sufficient moral weight.”
    “St. Augustine’s view

    St. Augustine said there were three just causes:

    defending against attack
    recapturing things taken
    punishing people who have done wrong”
    Seems that leaves all actions by the Irish to get rid of British rule in Ireland as just!
    Your issue is you cannot equate the rights of the Irish to self determination and their right to demand that by arms with your right as a British subject to maintain British rule in Ireland.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I don’t have an issue, we have resolved it all in the Good Friday Agreement. You’re the one who seems to be uncomfortable with things.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    SF have to be in government at present because so many nationalists vote for them. You can’t have power sharing and not have that. Not ideal but it’s a democracy. We are stuck with them and the DUP until our respective peoples come to their senses and elect more moderate politicians. We should all be trying to persuade people to do that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Germany was the aggressor though in WW1 – they invaded Belgium and France. Very little of Versailles was actually unfair; and Germany has to take responsibility for WW2. Can we really blame the Allies for Hitler? I think it’s a stretch. Yes it would have been wise to go a little easier on Germany in terms of reparations, and some areas of German territory should not have been taken away. Again on a “but for” test, of course Hitler may not have emerged had things not been as they were. But that’s not good enough. Germans who supported Hitler have to take responsibility for his rise.

    I hope you’re not arguing WW2 somehow wasn’t Germany’s doing, that we left them with no option but national socialism and the death camps? That’s taking historical blame shifting even further than the attempts to blame the U.K. for the Provos’ ill-advised “armed struggle”.

  • Skibo

    I am not saying that Germany cannot be blamed for WW2 but there is a certain element of culpability. Remember the criteria for a Just War!
    This is not a defence of anyone, just a discussion.
    As for the ill-advised armed struggle, we could include the ill advised militarising of the Irish question in 1912.
    As for the blame for the wanton loss of life in all wars, that can be shared out to all part-takers.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The Troubles was very largely an IRA campaign though – other protagonists were in it to stop the IRA, in the case of Loyalists, and to stop all paramilitary violence in the case of the government. When the IRA stopped, so did the Troubles. There is no point trying to fool people who were there, Skibo, You might get away with that line with people from further afield with no experience of NI, with kids or with Republicans, but don’t try it on people who were actually following events. The dogs on the street, as they say, know the “armed struggle” was a Republican offensive. I might add the point of detail that it was decided upon in principle in January 1970 by the newly formed Provisional IRA Army Council. Thereafter, Republicans cannot claim they were merely responding to events. They can’t really before that either. But Jan 1970 is the big landmark, probably the single most important decision in the history of Northern Ireland. And it was a terrible one. Not surprising when you look at the f***wits who took it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The interesting thing is to consider, MU, why those parties we might all consider least constitutionalist, and most intractable are seen as the natural representatives of their respective ends of the political spectrum i our community.

    This would not perchance be the product of a long chain of causation where extreme positions and violence are what has been shown to “work” with Westminster, and moderate constitutionalism has been regularly discredited by the deference shown to violence. Just asking……..

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree Westminster has deferred way too much to violence, it is a pattern. At the same time I have some sympathy with the frustration of politicians over here and indeed in the Republic at how readily people in NI resort to violence and refuse to do anything about their addiction to it. You can only blame other people outside NI up to a point – the culture of violence in both communities is deep-rooted and mutually reinforcing. It is an indigenous problem primarily and I get extremely frustrated by anyone continuing to make excuses for it. Really no one is making people behave that way, they do it because of failing to challenge wrong beliefs within their own cultures, both in Loyalism and Republicanism. We have a long-standing violence problem in our working class communities in particular, at the risk of stating the obvious.

    You can look into root causes till the cows come home and I’m sure much of that work isn’t wrong; but ultimately people just have to be less violent. Again, it’s a personal responsibility issue – people have to be held responsible for what they do, not give themselves carte blanche because of the supposed wrongs of others. Too much of the post-Troubles ‘consensus’ around understanding the views of those who took up arms has seemed to me and many to be jarring for that reason – every atrocity is treated like it was really someone else’s fault. There is no accountability for those who did it.

    The security forces have had the unenviable task of trying to protect the rest of the community and themselves from the consequences of certain sections of society’s wilful incontinence when it comes to violent self-expression. And of course, they get the biggest amount of mud thrown at them by those very people. That’s from both communities by the way. The way the violence-tolerating parts of our society have treated the work of those subjected to that violence day in day out during the Troubles has been sickening.

  • grumpy oul man

    Your ongoing ability to ignore history and play a game of themmuns is staggering, on a recent post you claimed that sunningdale was a example of unionist willingness to compromise,when challenged about the violence of the UWC strike and the ongoing murder campaign against it, all you could say was Sunningdale had to go, the murders where ignored, the intimidation was ignored and the fact that Unionist politicians made common cause with terrorists was ignored.
    You talk about
    ” Republicans’ utter disregard for truth and consistency:” yet date the troubles to when themmuns started shooting back,
    The failed sectarian state that was Northern Ireland and ongoing unionist violence from 1966 to 1969 had nothing to do with what followed.
    Again you apply your numbers game to the recent troubles ” whoever killed the most was the baddies” but selectively wont apply it to the 1916 uprising or the war of independence.
    Unionists have used violence whenever it suited and voted in large numbers for those politicians who worked hand and glove with terrorists yet this also you ignore in your attempts to confer self righteousness on the unionist community.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    save your breath, heard all that guff too many times

  • billypilgrim1

    In fairness, it’s a very strong and well-evidenced argument.

    But you already made up (and closed) your mind long ago, so you’re absolutely right: Grumpy Oul Man is wasting his breath.

  • billypilgrim1

    “The Troubles was very largely an IRA campaign…”

    But loyalist murder gangs pre-dated the Troubles by some years, and post-date it by decades, and counting…

  • billypilgrim1

    “…why those parties we might all consider least constitutionalist, and most intractable are seen as the natural representatives of their respective ends of the political spectrum…”

    It’s almost as if there’s something about the state itself which lends itself to extremism…..

    But of course it’s axiomatic that the state of Northern Ireland must be inviolable, no price in blood and misery and injustice is too great to pay for its continued existence, and we the people who live here must all remake ourselves so that the state might persist.

    This is the mad, Sovietesque position of MU – whose ideological commitment is so zealous that he himself got the hell out.

  • billypilgrim1

    Your entire argument boils down to the word “violence”.

    I’ve challenged you a number of times recently about what you think that term means. I’ve asked you about the question of structural violence. Ideological violence. About the idea that the state of Northern Ireland itself is an act of violence. Quite aside, of course, from the very real violence of the British state. By and large you have ignored these questions and stayed within your comfort zone.

    I cherish our disagreements, MU, I’d be disappointed if we ever came to routinely agree. But your lack of willingness to engage on these questions, or even acknowledge that I’ve raised them, is a bit of a let-down.

    I know you’re a lawyer, so I know a degree of intellectual brutalism is to be expected. Nevertheless, I have higher hopes than this outdated, 90s style Trimbleism.

    Maybe it’s just a sign that you’re out of touch.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    As do Republican terrorists. So what? The Troubles was still mainly a Republican terror campaign.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “Structural violence” and “ideological violence” are just people misusing the English language to make non-violent things seem as bad as violent things. Let’s keep the word violence to mean actual violence; we can stretch any definition of course but in doing so we disable a formerly useful word.

    And I find the idea that the state itself is some kind of metaphorical “act of violence”, in anything like the sense in which we use the term to talk about terrorism, neither enlightening nor meaningful, so I was just ignoring it.

    Oh and I’m not a lawyer, I gave that up a long time ago.

  • billypilgrim1

    From your perspective, undoubtedly. Other perspectives are available.

    It’s your lack of interest in other perspectives that is so disappointing.

  • billypilgrim1

    “but in doing so we disable a formerly useful word”

    That’s my point. You use the word only insofar as it’s useful to you. “Terrorism” is another beauty. (Because growing up, I knew terror, but it was the lads the Sun referred to as “our boys” that did the terrorising.) And fair dues, you use the hell out of these words.

    “I’m not a lawyer, I gave that up a long time ago.”

    Ah, that’s like being a Catholic. You may lapse, but it never leaves you.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    MU, are you aware of the contradiction in “You can only blame other people outside NI up to a point – the culture of violence in both communities is deep-rooted and mutually reinforcing…….Really no one is making people behave that way”?

    You’d challenged me with the “free will” arguement before when I spoke of encoded habits, but except for a few artie antithetical loners like myself, most people are gregarious and tend to “fit in” with their adaptability usually framed to accomodate the norms of their environemnt. There is a massive academic literature on this, in anthropoplgy and many other fields, with the general trajectory of its argument being that people customarily adopt “to” not usually “against” the norms. Most people learn the language of their community from childhood in order to meaningfully communicate with others, and in our case the encoded violence is part of that very language which has been encoded across our whole community, even across class. It is certainly a truism that if people see something works, they consider this as the way to behave.

    In this context, demanding that people take personal responsibility for action, while morally correct, opens up far more complex issues. This is why the 1910-23 encoding of a dramatic display of threatened violence as the route to influencing Westminster was always going to have been a most irresponsible and dangerous action on all sides, particularly in a Belfast habituated to sectarian rioting during the nineteenth century, and in a new state which had employed the tropes behind this “habit” to authorise its own brand of separatism over the Home Rule issue.

    How does one escape from this? Not simply by platitudes about people behaving better, or by taking one “easy” side in a grey and messy spagetti of overlaping culpabilities, or by avoiding the serious structural complexities attendant on patterns of causation.

    You say, in the context of a simple identification of the people you class as terrorists “every atrocity is treated like it was really someone else’s fault. There is no accountability for those who did it.” But for anyone trying to seriously look at each and every culpability with any sensitivity, this does not simply stop at a bland and easily recognised catagory of “terrorist” but permiates our entire society and its rulers like a phrase will run through a stick of rock. This is why I find your habitual blaming of “terrorism” simply a starting point, a sticking plaster on a more deeply rooted gangrene, and can only see your customary exoneration of authority as a dangerious myopia which does not even begin to touch the root of the problem. As Yeats said “What if the Church and the State/Are the mobs who howl at the door?”

  • grumpy oul man

    Firstly tell me where the guff is, i have pointed out the “Guff” in your posts!
    your double standards regarding murder and your very selective reading of history is the very definition of guff,
    but i will say that is your most honest answer yet, instead of two or three paragraphs of biased nonsense and waffle you have at least been honest and called history guff.
    A improvement of sorts i suppose!

  • grumpy oul man

    ” Troubles started in Aug 69″ that strange, Historians place Gusty and his sectarian killers at the start in 66, followed by OV bombs attacks on catholic homes continuing up to the attacks on civil rights marchers and the attacks on Bombay st ,Ardoyne and the Short strand.
    The provos formed as a response to unionist violence (at least that is what those who actually look at history tell us) but you seem blind to unionist violence and discrimination.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It’s not a matter of perspective, it’s a matter of what factually happened. 60 per cent of murders overall, actually 70 per cent for most of the Troubles and over 80 per cent of the bombs.

  • Skibo

    If Loyalists were only there to stop the IRA, why did they start the violence first? Remember the bombing by the UVF and trying to blame the IRA. Also I question the actions of the Loyalists during the troubles as actions to stop the IRA. They were mainly actions against the Catholic community full stop.

    I cannot understand your argument that the PIRA only came into existence in Jan 1970 and the troubles was all down to them. They were a break-off from the IRA movement, not the first and unfortunately not the last.
    To say their actions must be looked at as from 1970 on and independent of all actions by others is idiotic and incompetent.
    Republicans look at the troubles as a reaction to an undemocratic one party government, governing NI for the benefit of one part of the community.
    As for your final statement “f***wits” shows you are past sensible argument and have to result in insults and accusations.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    you don’t think they’re f***wits? Can’t believe you’re defending them. No, actually, I can believe it.

  • Skibo

    I was not defending anyone, merely analysing your use of colourful language lowering the tone of the argument.
    I would suggest the more important landmark was the Unionist move to bring down Sunningdale. A power-sharing assembly fairly similar to Stormont. Now who did that?
    Have you ever counted the number of fatalities since that?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    you were defending the PIRA Army Council, whom I described as f***wits.

    Sunningdale failed because it was the wrong deal, it didn’t reflect what people in NI wanted. If you reflect on the difference between Sunningdale and the GFA, you might notice that the GFA avoided the Council of Ireland mistake that nationalists pushed in Sunningdale and was able to carry unionist support as a result. These deals are compromises. Nationalists no more agreed to unionist plans for political progress than the other way around, so blaming unionists for the failure of Sunningdale is just silly. Sunningdale, like the Anglo-Irish Agreement, failed because it was too green and couldn’t carry the people. Nationalists pushed it too far and the UK government made a mistake in backing the SDLP line without due consideration for unionist opinion (though the government, including Heath himself, had big misgivings of course).

    Bottom line is, had nationalists accepted in 1974 what they were willing to accept in 1998, a deal could have been done then. The 1998 deal was largely what moderate unionism was happy to agree to in 1974.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You are misrepresenting what I’m saying about the start of the Troubles.

    The early incidents in the Troubles, which largely consisted of riots attacking the security forces and inter-communal gang attacks by Loyalists and Republicans on each others’ communities, were not controlled by the IRA; but they were involved, and worked quickly in the early weeks and months to get into a position of greater control and influence.

    The split in December 69 and the strategising of the new Provo IRA Army Council in 1970 shows how quickly Republicanism was manoeuvring itself into a position where it could launch an offensive. It moved onto the front foot during 1970 and by the early part of 1971, it was doing nearly all the killing in Northern Ireland. Look at the events of the first half of 1971, it was so one-sided at that time already.

    Internment then came to try and stop this and kicked off a new phase of aggression from them, Loyalists then got more organised and lethal too and it went on from there.

    You can’t analyse the Troubles simply as one single event but a connected series of events and series of connected antagonisms. You have the inter-communal riots and attacks; you have the Republican campaign against the security forces with civilians caught up; you have Loyalist attacks on the Catholic community, as a proxy for the Republican terrorists they couldn’t get to (which kind of gives the lie to the wilder ‘collusion’ fantasies – the truth was Loyalists went for any Catholic, precisely because they didn’t have the level of intelligence info and supposed ‘assistance’ from the security forces they are accused of having, except in a very limited number of cases. Loyalist violence was overwhelmingly motivated by hatred of the IRA but directed at random Catholic targets who couldn’t defend themselves. It was cowardly in the extreme.)

    Incidentally, while The Troubles do connect of course to the UVF incidents of 1966, they are hardly the only prior violence The Troubles is connected to. The previous IRA campaign only ended in 1962 and the IRA Army Council was planning another offensive in 1965-6, according to Prof Richard English’s work, and recruited in growing numbers throughout the 60s; it also targeted civil rights as a Trojan Horse it could use to progress towards Republican goals. The current fashion within Republican discourse for taking 1966 as the ‘start’ of the Troubles is ahistorical – were the Troubles raging in 1967? – and seems to make sense only if your aim is to blame the other side for ‘starting’ it.

    Of course loyalist violence played a big part in the start of the Troubles, but so did nationalist and Republican violence, let’s not kid ourselves. The rioting in Derry that kicked things off in August 69 was by Catholic youths primarily and the same went for the first nights of rioting in Belfast, started after communication between Republicans in Derry and Belfast to seek to over-stretch the police. Loyalists of course played no small part also and I’m not seeking to blame Republicans solely for the actual start of the trouble. I see the events of 1969 as more 50/50 and only perhaps marginally more Republicans’ doing than Loyalists. Both had groups of people spoiling for a fight and going completely out of control on the streets. However, the pattern of late 1969 was not the set pattern for the whole 30 years of violence.

    It changed rapidly in the early years before settling into a pattern of largely Republican violence with a Loyalist lower level response and, way behind both, a much smaller amount of violence from the security forces trying to protect the public from it all.

    That’s the truth of it – an uncomfortable one it seems for some Republicans, but it really shouldn’t be. The “armed struggle” was theirs after all, and for a long time they championed this idea of using violence to force NI out of the UK, with whatever damage in terms of human life that entailed. It was a catastrophically cruel campaign based on a stupid, brutal set of beliefs. They did it and they need to man up and take responsibility for it now. F***ing idiots the lot of them – and cowardly ones at that.

  • Skibo

    Like I have already said I am defending nobody. I merely rise an issue and try and discuss it from all sides.
    Sunningdale did have the Council of Ireland but this was not a new idea and there was provision for it in the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Everything within it was consultative and advisory. Could you point out the difference in the Council of Ireland and the North-South bodies other than the obvious lack of the word Ireland?
    I state that Unionism brought down Sunningdale as it if fact. The pressure of the Ulster Workers strike (the UDA), the banding together of staunch Unionism to form the UUUC and the withdrawal of the Pro Agreement Unionists in March 74 brought it down.
    Again we have the issue that Unionism have with sharing power with Nationalism. They insist in being able to portray the Britishness of Unionism while condemning the Nationalist leanings of Nationalism.
    Bottom line is Unionism accepted in 1998 what they could not accept in 1973 , parity of esteem for both political outlooks (though some within Unionism still find this difficult).
    While the rump of the Ulster Unionist party was able to direct the main party in the end in 74, they were unable to after 98 and as can be seen the UUP is a shadow of it’s former self with the splits and defections now installed in and directing the DUP.
    In 1998 Republicanism were on board where they were not in 74. Had Sunningdale succeeded, I believe the support for violence would have drifted away. It depended highly however in the UVF and UDA refraining from attacking Catholics. Not so sure that would have been as easy to predict.
    The only difference I see in 74 and 98 is the changes in articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution. As these were merely in writing and did not hold authority in an international court, I believe this was merely used as a get-out clause for the pro-agreement parties in March 74.

  • Skibo

    MU that is a fine bit of reporting from a Unionist outlook and no mater how you protest, you will only be able to see it from a Unionist outlook.
    I came from the Nationalist community, born in the mid sixties and come up through with it. I knew of young lads who eventually became embroiled in the troubles and it was not because they were politicised by a Republican panacea, but rather a feeling of being a second class citizen in their own community.
    You have left out the main reason for the troubles, probably one that you will down play and exonerate the one party state that NI was, a Protestant state for a Protestant people. Toe the line and get on or endure treatment that would compel you to leave your homeland. Had this not happened, the demographics we are about to witness would have happened a generation ago.

    The amazing thing is elements of the working Protestants were not treated any better that the working class Catholics, two up two down and an outside toilet. The difference was the large swathes of Catholic hinterland with no industry and no jobs. Catholics were hounded out of the shipyard, Mackies and Shorts to name a few.

    I do not defend Republican violence. The taking of any life is deplorable yet so many find it defensible take life in defence of your country or your democratic right.
    I find your attitude to collusion as forgiving or a necessary evil to fight the greater evil. You are prepared to suspend rights in the defence of rights. It just doesn’t add up.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So the Council of Ireland in 73 was designed as follows:
    “It would comprise a Council of Ministers with executive and harmonising functions and a consultative role, and a Consultative Assembly with advisory and review functions.” Two big issues with that:
    (1) the unionist protection was only in the form of those unionists sitting on the Council of Ministers itself having the power to block its workings; there was still the danger of those ‘going native’ – being unreflective of unionist representatives as a whole and allowing through measures that went against unionist voters overall. Related to this was …
    (2) the stated purposes of the Council of Ministers. This was left open at first, to be decided upon, but some objectives were set. They were to include:
    “(i) to achieve the best utilisation of scarce skills, expertise and resources;
    (ii) to avoid in the interests of economy and efficiency, unnecessary duplication of effort; and
    (iii) to ensure complementary rather than competitive effort where this is to the advantage of agriculture, commerce and industry.”
    Pretty broad.

    In the GFA, by contrast, the implementation of decisions taken by the North-South Ministerial Council was made dependent upon their approval by both the Irish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. So the NSMC can only do things the NI Assembly wants it to do. Further, the list of activities of cross-border bodies was, crucially, listed and limited to uncontroversial, genuine cross-border matters – ones we’d be co-operating on anyway. In 73-74, it was left open (and therefore open-ended) – and this gave the impression of therefore being a harmonising body with a dynamic and a broad purpose, including anything that involved North-South duplication (i.e. potentially anything at all). So the remit and control of the NSMC was a key area in the 1998 negotiations and I remember thinking when that came through: “wow, they have managed it.”

    There are also many other differences between 1973-4 and 1998 surrounding conditions, that affected wider unionist likelihood to trust the deal. Sunningdale happened around a time Secretaries of State and senior Westminster figures were giving alarming signals about their lack of commitment to the Union (Merlyn Rees stupidly said they wanted to get out as soon as they could, for example; Wilson was also an idiot on N Ireland). The Irish had refused to withdraw Articles 2 and 3; and the SDLP were touting the agreement as having a dynamic towards a united Ireland. So unionist concerns about where this was going were not to be dismissed lightly. Then there is the fact of the IRA signing up to 1998 through SF, giving an added guarantee that this deal was worth going for in terms of tying them into the ending of their violence. You mention the UVF as a threat to Sunningdale, but of course the IRA were killing more people even in that phase of the Troubles and they weren’t signed up either, nor committed to ending their campaign. The hope was just that a centrist deal would put pressure on them to stop. But the PIRA had no intention of stopping short of a united Ireland in 1974 and didn’t.

    So, attempting to blame unionists for the continued Republican campaign after 1974 is entirely unconvincing and unsupported by the facts. It’s also an abrogation of the moral responsibility to attach overwhelming blame for acts of terrorism to the terrorists themselves.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    what you’re describing as a feeling of being a second class citizen, I can empathise with. The non-sequitur though is to then start demanding the overturning of democracy and slaughtering people until it happens.

    You also have me as defending criminal involvement by some members of the security forces in some Troubles murders, which I don’t. My attack on the “collusion” narrative is because it is aimed at obscuring the truth, not revealing it, and uses 21st Century “post-truth” media tactics. I object to the “collusion” narrative’s characterising of all instances of the intelligence services using informers inside the paramilitaries as “collusion”. I object even more to attempts to make the security forces responsible for the actions of all the paramilitaries they were spying on. It’s really a bogus line of argument which takes no account of extremely necessary anti-terrorist intelligence approaches – and makes any future intelligence work against paramilitary groups impossible. This isn’t to deny there were rogue operators, including at times some rogue units; and they were given way more autonomy than we would now. But these were the early days of dealing with groups like the PIRA and UVF and it was both a steep learning curve and a near impossible, thankless task we were asking our public servants to do on our behalf. They deserve our immense and eternal gratitude.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Inappropriate ambivalence towards the most awful terrorist violence though is something of a long-standing Achilles heel for a lot of nationalism, would you not agree? Thank you for providing another example of the problem. You did it at least twice in this exchange.

    First, your response to my calling the PIRA Council of January 1970 f***wits, which went as follows:
    “As for your final statement “f***wits” shows you are past sensible argument and have to result in insults and accusations.”
    So slagging off the PIRA Army Council with a rude word provokes in you not agreement or sympathy, but criticism, as it is in your view “past sensible argument”. Worse, you describe it as an “insult”. It feels rather that when I attack the IRA Army Council as f***wits – a restrained epithet to apply, I’d have thought, to an organisation who carried out the murders of so many innocents – you take offence on their behalf. Why? It was aimed at them, and they deserved it, it was not aimed at you. If you called the leaders of the UVF f***wits, I wouldn’t take umbrage, I’d heartily agree. Indeed, this is the kind of thing I’d have thought we could all agree on.

    Then you say in one breath that you don’t defend Republican violence, and in the next: “yet so many find it defensible [to] take life in defence of your country or your democratic right.” Which sounds a bit like you are defending them. Or what is your position on those who find it defensible? You seem quite sanguine about them. Surely that is misplaced.

    This is the problem with a lot of Republican and Loyalist thinking on violence. They seem to want to be respected for rejecting violence and moving on, but it seems they can’t really condemn it like normal people do and aren’t willing to concede how wrong terrorism was and is. It is never condemned without some sort of a caveat to the effect of “but it wasn’t the terrorists’ fault really.” Not good enough. That is why society is struggling to move on from the Troubles, even more than it need be.

  • Skibo

    Inappropriate ambivalence to (terrorist) violence is something all sides of the community will have to bear. Nationalism will carry a mark for a long time of the number of lives taken and given. Unionism seems to have no problem accepting violence as long as it is directed in a Republican direction and if that involves collateral damage in the Catholic community, well its the Republican’s fault.
    I hear a similar defence of countries that bomb towns and cities and blame others who forced them to do it.
    The issue I have with the use of language is when you resort to a level of gutter language, it is normally a sign of loss of an argument. This is not a support or denial of your statement, merely an acknowledgement that your response has hit the gutter.
    Your next paragraph on my support for the taking of life again has missed the point and again proves the point that you are unable to do any navel gazing and instead have to condemn all and sundry on “the other side”.
    My comment, perhaps a bit snide was meant for people like yourself who hold the security services in such high regard for their ability and actions in the taking of lives. You parade about every year on numerous occasions celebrating the taking of lives in the pursuit of the British way of life.
    The rejection of violence by both the Republican and Loyalist groups is a massive step and should be acknowledged as such. Remember the British Government have not rejected the use of violence and the indiscriminate taking of life when it suits them. Just wars are merely talking to yourself and assuring yourself that the evil of going to war is lesser than the evil of not but in numerous occasions around the world Britain and the USA have decided to act as police to enforce rules that they have decided are rational.

  • Skibo

    MU I will accept that you object to rogue security members and indeed rogue security units, but what I am concerned at is the level of rogue members and how were they able to operate with such ease.
    The level of collusion will never be known unless there is an independent international investigation.
    Even when English officers were brought over to investigate the actions of the security services in NI their investigations were hampered and there was not proper assistance from within the security services from the top.
    “they were given way more autonomy than we would now” This statement goes completely against security services training. It is the job of a soldier to carry out orders, not make them up.
    Finally, the taking of a life by a Terrorist can in no way be seen as equal to a member of the security services taking a life. One has an aim to kill and maim, the other is paid to protect and serve.

  • Skibo

    “what you’re describing as a feeling of being a second class citizen, I can empathise with. The non-sequitur though is to then start demanding the overturning of democracy and slaughtering people until it happens.”
    You are implying that what went for democracy in NI was actual democracy.
    “a system of government by the WHOLE population or ALL the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives”
    We did not have democracy in NI, not according to this definition.
    The demand for equal rights did not start out as violent unless you are talking about the brutality of the B’Specials batoning peaceful marches. The Nationalist people saw how the government dealt with peaceful protest.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No democracy is perfect. It was absolutely a democracy in Stormont electoral terms, notwithstanding the unpopularity of Irish nationalist parties and their consequent inability to win elections. It’s not the voters or unionists’ fault that nationalist parties clung to policies most people would never vote for. They too played their part in the one party system emerging. It was far from ideal but it wasn’t really anyone’s fault.
    But I do agree progress was needed in the mid-century decades towards greater inclusion and participation from Catholics, given that logjam and it was way too slow. Absolutely no need for anyone to be murdered though.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The autonomy point was just to agree with Stevens and Da Silva – the state fault was really not to have more supervision over agent handling. But I think elected politicians stood back precisely because the intelligence world was regarded as something only officers near ground level understood and they needed to be allowed to get on with it. Actually not that unreasonable a position but it does expose the state to blame when mistakes and crimes happen.

  • Skibo

    Perhaps at times, hell i know I do, I point out the absurdity of this world where we can condemn one side for the taking of life over a political motive and award medals to others for doing the same for a political motive.
    The issue of the intelligence world is that there have to be parameters to work within. If the parameters will allow the taking of a life to protect a source then are the parameters set too low? The parameters are set at the top. Did you notice how the security response changed when Margaret Thatcher was the head honcho?
    I heard a saying repeated recently on telly, better ten guilty men walking about than one innocent man locked up. How many lives are a source worth and if our way of life requires the taking of an innocent life, is it worth it?

  • Skibo

    How can democracy be perfect when the demographics were set to keep one part of the community in control of the other? How do you put control measures in place to prevent the abuse of power that did happen?
    Why didn’t the British Government realise in 1921 that this would happen and instead of a solution to the Irish question, they merely delayed it bu 100 or so years?
    What is your position on the parameters of allowing lives to be taken in the pursuit of democracy or the control of protests against government?
    Were the cracking of sculls and the breaking of bones by the B’specials acceptable? How should the people involved in the Civil Rights movement have reacted?
    In 1913, I believe, James Connolly set up the Irish Citizen’s Army to protect strikers who were being treated similarly. That army, though small in numbers took part in the 1916 rising. That is how easy it is to move from protester to reactionary.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I said no democracy was perfect, so the opposite.

    I follow the current law on the circumstances in which police and military can use force. What changes are you suggesting are needed?

    And no the breaking of bones and cracking of skulls by the B Specials was not acceptable, unless done when using legal minimum force in the conduct of their duties. But allowing for all that, of course the police have no right to exceed their powers – and clearly police forces the world over have done that plenty over the decades and centuries. The NI police are no exception, though they perhaps have had an unusually good record of restraint compared to most forces. But police brutality is a terrible thing and it’s completely right to seek fair treatment from the police force of course.

    People attacking the police because they don’t like the country though, as Republicans have long done, isn’t really valid. You must admit that has happened an awful lot. The police had good reason to be skeptical about a lot of the criticism from the same people who were supporting the murder of police officers. Any discussion of policing needs to be sensitive to that.

  • Fear Éireannach

    It certainly was the certainly the unionists’ fault that a sectarian gerrymander created NI and ensured that nationalists would be treated as inferior.

  • Skibo

    I will answer last, first. ” because they don’t like the country”. That is not why republicans resorted to violence in my view. The country of Ireland was what they were fighting for. The rule of Britain in Ireland is what they were fighting against.
    Being sceptical of criticism because of the source of complaint does not allow the complaint to be ignored. What happened during the troubles resulted in lawyers who defended Republicans being targeted by security services and although the report was not fully published, the reply by the PM of the death of Pat Finucane is more than adequate to prove that.
    Every time Unionist politicians were asked to comment on the death of a Catholic by Loyalists, they were ALWAYS never able to condemn it without raising the actions of the IRA. In doing so people, myself included believed this gave the Loyalists cover to continue their actions.
    I have only ever heard one politician raise the issue of the government of NI prior to the Troubles in any negative way. That was Reg Empey and I believe it was only on one occasion.
    There were good police men during the troubles but they also had to serve alongside bad police men. My family met both and had to deal with both. to have your home shot into and bullets recovered with no proper investigation only to be told privately that the rounds were from a service revolver.
    The issue was, for an officer to raise his head and complain made him look like sympathetic to the IRA yet the actions of the bad officers within the service was blackening the name of the force as a whole.
    The life of a whistle blower would not have been a safe one.
    What changes would I suggest, mainly an independent investigation office to investigate complaints about security actions. They would need the power to demand statements and have access to all documents.
    Unfortunately the present inquiry seems a bit toothless and has had trouble in the past in getting RUC cooperation.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’ll just let your words speak for themselves.

    Same old approach, same old inability to take account of the armed force Republican role. You seek to portray the main moral issue of the Troubles as being between good and bad policemen when (a) the vast majority were good and (b) the terrorists you choose not to comment on were by far the main source of violence.

  • Skibo

    I am happy to let my words speak for themselves but I do not accept your interpretation of them.
    The actions of the Government in the seventy years previous to the troubles was fertile ground for rebellion.
    You can blame the rebellious Irish all you want but if the reasons for the rebellious nature is not tackled then, well you know where this is going.
    You cannot completely counteract a political problem with security measures for ever. Either address the political imbalance or expect more of the same.
    This constant need to place blame on the Republican side everything went before is going to leave you blind to where the movement actually is today.
    They have accepted the power of the ballot box and are working the system. Is that not what you want or is the sack cloth and ashes more important?